Paris gears up for Six Nations opener

It will be the first game played at the Stade de France since the attacks on Nov 13, 2015, when France hosted Germany in a football friendly.
It will be the first game played at the Stade de France since the attacks on Nov 13, 2015, when France hosted Germany in a football friendly. PHOTO: REUTERS

MILAN • Italy coach Jacques Brunel said memories of the Paris terror attacks will be fresh when the Azzurri challenge France in their Six Nations rugby opener today.

It will be the first game played at the Stade de France since the attacks on Nov 13, when France hosted Germany in a football friendly.

A series of coordinated attacks - including a suicide bombing outside the Stade de France - killed at least 130 people and Brunel is expecting a "different" encounter.

"This game will have a particular feel to it," the Frenchman said after unveiling his starting XV, in which David Odiete (full-back), Mattia Bellini (left wing) and front rowers Ornel Gega and Andrea Lovotti will make their debuts.

"Memories of the terror attacks will still be fresh in Paris, the stadium won't be full and so the atmosphere will be different to what it usually is."

Snipers, sniffer dogs and extra searches will anchor the biggest security operation seen at a sporting event in the country today.

Past rugby internationals at the Stade de France have been overseen by 100 police and 700 security staff and stewards.

Today, there will be 250 police and 900 security staff, perhaps more, if President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls attend. Hollande was in the arena on Nov 13 and his presence today would be highly symbolic.

"We remember the attacks every day," said France coach Guy Noves, who picked sevens stalwart and wing Virimi Vakatawa in a new-look team that include the uncapped scrum-half Sebastien Bezy, lock Paul Jedrasiak and centre Jonathan Danty.

"We don't need a game to remember them. But we have to play the game and not let (the attacks) be the focus."

The match against Italy is followed by Ireland the following weekend and the visit of England on the final day of the tournament on March 19.

The three rugby internationals will provide the police with invaluable experience before the Euro 2016 football championship, also to be held in France from June to July.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

FRANCE V  ITALY

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Paris gears up for Six Nations opener'. Print Edition | Subscribe